Officials at the Pinellas County Jail are dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19.
According to a statement from the Sheriff's Office, 13 staff members and five inmates have tested positive within the last few days.
The staff members mainly work in the Inmate Records division or are deputies working in the North Division of the jail, which is located on 49th St. N in Clearwater.
Fourteen employees have test results pending, and the 30 members of one shift in the Inmate Records division are on home quarantine. The first cases were reported among those inmate records specialists, who interact with other staff, but not inmates.
The five inmates were all housed in C Barracks and are in respiratory isolation. The Tampa Bay Times reports most of them are trustees, meaning they work in jobs like preparing and delivering food and have contact with jail staff.
The Sheriff's Office is taking a number of steps to try to control the spread of the disease in the jail, including:
- Asking law enforcement agencies in the county to limit physical arrests, except for people charged with domestic violations, violating an injunction, or a threat to public safety. It also includes referring all misdemeanor cases to the State Attorney’s Office or issuing notices to appear.
- Having inmates make all court appearances by videoconferencing instead of taking them to the courthouse.
- Asking judges to refrain from remanding defendants to custody. If someone is remanded, they will be driven to jail while also being required to wear a mask.
- Not transporting inmates to other correctional facilities.
In addition, all employees, including county and contract staff, are required to wear masks while in the jail.
Inmates have to wear masks when leaving where they're housed and when they have contact with jail staff. They can also wear them in their housing units if they want to.
Social workers and chaplains will have to talk to inmates through the inmate kiosk system.
The Sheriff’s Office says the measures will be in effect until further notice.
COVID-19 has been an issue for a number of Florida prisons and jails. According to the state Department of Corrections, as of Thursday, 1,598 inmates and 306 staff members have tested positive.
Eighteen inmates have died from complications of the disease, and The News Service of Florida reports that at least 16 prisoners are currently hospitalized, including four who are on ventilators.
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